'We're meeting our responsibilities': rail company head on why he's not yet in Lac-Megantic
Published Tuesday, July 9, 2013 8:40AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:29AM EDT
The head of the rail company involved in a devastating train derailment and explosion in Quebec defended his decision to wait several days to travel to the scene, saying he was more effective working with his staff in Chicago than he would have been wandering around the disaster site.
Edward Burkhardt, head of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, says he plans to travel to Lac-Megantic Tuesday to join the dozen or so staff the rail line already has on the ground.
"I made a decision that I would stay back here and try to handle the press, the insurance people, and a host of other relationships that are important to this entire issue," Burkhardt told CTV's Canada AM.
"I've been working 20 hour days ever since Saturday dealing with this, and I think I can be more effective in my office with a staff than I can be trying to work a cell phone on the edge of the cordoned-off area in Megantic."
Burkhardt is likely to face some criticism when he does arrive in the Quebec community located about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.
The town is still reeling after a train rolled into the town from the community of Nantes, about 13 kilometres away, then derailed and caught fire.
The blast overnight Friday killed at least 13 people, and nearly 40 more are still missing. And many have wondered why Burkhardt hasn't been present to explain to the media and townspeople what happened.
He said Tuesday morning the company is "not trying to duck out of anything -- we're meeting our responsibilities as best we can at this point," but acknowledged that not everyone agrees with his choice to wait several days before travelling to Lac-Megantic.
"I am headed there today and that had been my plan. One of the worst things is to be wandering around at the time the first responders are trying to make their emergency rescues in the city, you can do absolutely nothing so I think I made a good decision there although I realize I'm taking severe criticism from some quarters for it," he said.
There have been questions about what led up to the horrific accident. A fire crew in Nantes battled a blaze on the train on Friday evening, and Burkhardt claims they shut the train down which could have disengaged its air brakes and sent it rolling down the tracks.
"They shut down the engine that was maintaining the brakes that were holding the train. They didn’t do that on purpose, this was inadvertent," Burkhardt said.
Nantes fire chief Patrick Lambert told The Canadian Press his crew had been trained by MMA to handle fires on its line, and was following the company's own procedures when firefighters shut off the engine to battle the blaze.
And once the fire was out, the crew received the all-clear from MMA to depart the scene, Lambert said.
However, MMA maintains the crew should have alerted the engineer, who at that point was sleeping in a hotel.
After the fire crew left the scene, the train began rolling downhill towards Lac-Megantic.
The train was carrying 72 tanker cars full of shale oil from North Dakota, and was destined for an Irving oil refinery in Saint John, N.B.